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Meghan And Harry 'Step Back' As Royals — What Does That Mean, Exactly?

John Loughery, a fan of the royals, reads the day's news outside Buckingham Palace in London on Thursday, following the announcement that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle plan to step down as senior members of the royal family.
Tolga Akmen
AFP via Getty Images
John Loughery, a fan of the royals, reads the day's news outside Buckingham Palace in London on Thursday, following the announcement that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle plan to step down as senior members of the royal family.

When Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announcedthat they will "step back" from their duties as senior members of the British royal family, many members of the public in both the U.S. and the U.K. were supportive of their decision.

"We intend to step back as 'senior' members of the Royal Family, and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen," they wrote. "We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages."

But the choice also raised a number of questions — not least from the rest of the royal family at Buckingham Palace, who were reportedly surprised by the announcement.

Are they cutting themselves off financially from the royal family?

"Financially independent" is an interesting term. Sometimes that phrase means independence from family money, but that is not what the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have in mind.

Rather, they mean that they will no longer receive funding throughthe Sovereign Grant, the British public funding that supports the official duties of the queen and maintains the palaces occupied by members of the royal family. They will now be able to work and earn income, which they are not permitted to do in their current roles.

But British royals have other sources of income besides the Sovereign Grant.

Prince Charles is also the Duke of Cornwall. As such, he is entitled to all of the income from the Duchy of Cornwall. The Duchy had an operating surplus of nearly $30 million last year. Harry, his brother William and their wives receive millions of pounds annually from Charles.

There is no indication so far that Harry intends to stop receiving these payments, but it will be up to Charles whether he decides to keep giving them.

What are they going to do for work?

Meghan could of course go back to her job as a television and film actress. That pays well. She also might become involved in fashion, as she has before.

They will likely ramp up the foundation they created after theysplit off from the charity they had been supporting with Prince William and his wife Kate. In July, Harry and Meghan filed to register a trademark for their new foundation, Royal Sussex, which reportedly applies to items ranging from education to clothing.

They say they wish to "carve out a progressive new role within this institution" — that likely means an escape from the burdens of British tabloid scrutiny and endless ribbon-cuttings, but not necessarily cutting ties to royal status.

Where will they live?

They say they intend to split their time between the U.K. and North America.

"This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity," they wrote.

Many Americans may have assumed that by North America, the Duke and Duchess meant the U.S. — Meghan's an American, after all.

But many believe the couple will instead make a home in Canada. The pair just returned from spending six weeks at an estate on Vancouver Island. That sounds nice. And they say they will continue to honor the British Commonwealth, of which Canada is a part.

When in the U.K., they say they plan to keep living at their home, Frogmore Cottage, so long as the queen permits it. They recently completed renovations that cost more than $3 million. The renovation was publicly funded through the Sovereign Grant, as it was considered"upkeep."

Are these crazy lovebirds going to be OK?

It's probably safe to say that Harry, Meghan and their son Archie will land on their royal feet, despite the financial, professional and geographic upheaval to come.

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.